5 Things to Do in Cherokee This Fall | Cherokee, NC

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5 Things to Do in Cherokee This Fall

In Cherokee, North Carolina, fall is a time of transformation. The leaves put on a dizzying fall color display and the air is crisp and cool. Autumn is one of the most beautiful times of year to visit Cherokee. Our mountainsides turn red and gold and the fall foliage can be enjoyed at your pace, either on a scenic hike on a local trail or on a scenic drive on one of our mountain roads.

But leaf peeping is not the only reason to come to Cherokee in autumn. Fall is a perfect time to slow down, gather with loved ones, and take in the culture and beauty of Western North Carolina. To get the most out of your trip to Cherokee this fall, we’ve put together five suggestions for things to do and see while you are here.

1. Experience Cherokee History

Visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and learn the story of the Cherokees spanning the last 13,000 years. This award-winning museum, called a "model museum" by Disney Imagineering, takes visitors from the Paleo period all the way through the Trail of Tears using stunning animations, artifacts, life-size figures, audio, artwork, and more. They are open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; masks required.

While at the museum, meet the Atsila Anotasgi Cultural Specialists, tribal members who are cultural specialists with vast knowledge of Cherokee history and culture. The group includes storytellers, singers, flute players, wood and stone carvers, and more.

After visiting the Museum of the Cherokee Indian take a trip back in time to Oconaluftee Indian Village–a unique outdoors living history museum set in the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There you can experience what it would have been like to walk through a Cherokee village in the 1760s.

2. View elk

Surrounded by the Smoky Mountains, it’s no surprise that Cherokee is one of the top spots for viewing wildlife like the native elk. Elk are sometimes spotted grazing in the fields near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Some of the best viewing is at Cataloochee, north of Waynesville and Maggie Valley. Check out our tips for viewing elk.

3. Support local artists

Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc., the nation's oldest and foremost Native American cooperative, showcases the work of over 250 artists working to preserve the artistic traditions of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Discover handmade work from master crafters of pottery, basket weaving, beadworking, silversmithing, wood and stone carving and more, and take a piece of Cherokee home with you. Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual is open year-round.

4. See Mingo Falls or Soco Falls

A getaway to the Blue Ridge Mountains is incomplete without a visit to one of the many waterfalls that grace this region. Mingo Falls on the Cherokee Indian Reservation is one of the tallest, most beautiful waterfalls in the southern Appalachians. To Cherokee, it's known as "Big Bear Falls," or "yon equo" as it's called in the Cherokee language. It cascades almost two hundred feet down granite boulders, with a spectacular view you can take in safely from a bridge at the base of the falls. A short, moderate hike will get you to the falls, with 161 steps leading up to the base. If you want to see two waterfalls in one day (or actually-three), after visiting Mingo Falls take a trip over to Soco Falls, a gorgeous double waterfall located in nearby Maggie Valley.

5. Fish, Hike or Bike

Fall is an excellent time to go fishing in Cherokee. Not only will you discover beautiful scenery, but the amount of wild fish you can encounter really sets it apart. The Oconaluftee River is a gorgeous freestone stream that flows through Cherokee. Oconaluftee Islands Park is a popular spot for trout fishing right near downtown. If you are looking for a pro-tip on fishing spots from a local angler, Cherokee fly fishing champion Michael Bradley says that of all the rivers he has fished, he thinks Cherokee has the best one with the Raven Fork in Big Cove.

If fishing is not your thing or if you prefer another type of outdoor adventure, check out Cherokee’s own outdoor playground in the NC mountains–the Fire Mountain Trail System, a 10.5-mile mixed-use network with biking and hiking trails that appeals to hikers, bikers, and runners.

Cherokee is also the gateway to both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so there are lots of trails (and scenic drives) to explore and enjoy nearby. Cherokee is also just a short drive away from Nantahala National Forest and other popular areas for leaf peeping, fishing, hiking, and mountain biking.

Stay Safe in Cherokee this Autumn

With COVID-19 happening, we encourage everyone to be extra safe and follow all the recommended guidelines to stay healthy during this challenging time. 

Unfortunately, because of the pandemic we were unable to include Cherokee’s own popular outdoor drama Unto These Hills. The 2020 season was cancelled to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We recommend coming back again next year and adding Unto These Hills to the top of your list of things to do.

Looking for more things to do and see in Cherokee this fall? VisitCherokeeNC is an online travel guide you can use to discover all of your options for things to do and see in Cherokee every season of the year. 

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